Is there anything more comforting than a big ol’ plate of pasta? I certainly don’t think so. For my last meal, stranded on a desert island, world’s going to end tomorrow dinner, it would totally be pasta. It’s just, ugh, happiness. And in my quest for perpetual happiness, I decided to make stuffed shells stuffed with all sorts of ricotta spinach (of course!) goodness.
But, before I get into that, I’m introducing a new page here at Cuisineous: my Kitchen Must Haves. This is a collection of kitchen things that have completely changed the way I work in the kitchen. Nothing fancy or precious there, just a few items I’ve encountered in my culinary travels that I couldn’t imagine living without. Be sure to check back from time to time as new items and updates are added. But, let’s get back to the meat of the matter…
Pasta. I love it.
The filling is nothing more than spinach, part-skim ricotta cheese, salt, and…….wait for it…….lemon zest.
Now wait, before you go hollering at me for messing with tradition, here me out. The lemon zest just elevates everything. It makes the tomato sauce taste more like tomatoes. The spinach taste more like spinach. The mozzarella taste more like….well, anything other than bland, flavorless mozzarella.
And as is true for any pasta dish, the leftovers will last for eons. Quite honestly, if there won’t be any leftovers, pasta rarely excites me because if I’m going to wait 35 minutes for my stove to actually bring my giant pot of water to a boil, I better be eating for days.
Speaking of eating for days, these stuffed shells are all about abundance. Each shell is crammed (stuffed, overflowing, bursting) with creamy simple-as-all-heck filling. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s just not baked pasta without wall-to-wall melty gooey mozzarella cheese. Sigh….
This recipe has also taught me a valuable lesson about leftovers. Let’s say you had a lasagna pan full of stuffed shells of which you had eaten half (not alone, mind you, but just in general, half of the pan’s contents were eaten). And let’s say that the following day, you were so excited to eat the remaining shells that you immediately threw the pan in a 400-degree oven and planned on letting the shells warm up in there for 30 minutes. Unfortunately, when you do that, the food remnants on the mostly empty side of the pan wind up burning and crusting onto the glass. That’s why our lasagna pan is now soaking in our kitchen sink, and will continue to do so until tomorrow. I’ll spare you the gory details of what a disaster such as this actually looks like, but you get the (mental) picture.
Ah, oh well. For two nights of indulgent pasta bliss, I could deal with scrubbing a pan. (Or Ben could, since I cooked and all. I mean, it’s only fair, right?!)
Cheesy, baked, overindulgent pasta is satisfying on so many levels. These stuffed shells include lemon zest in the filling for extra zip and brightness.
- FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE:
- 1/2 large onion, chopped (I used vidalia since they were in season, but you can use whatever you'd like)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tsps extra virgin olive oil
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I used one with basil in it)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 15 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
- 10 oz. cooked, chopped spinach (I used frozen and thawed it out)
- Zest of 1 lemon (see notes)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 box of jumbo pasta shells
- 8 oz. mozzarella, grated
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water.
- To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once warm, add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar. Simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- While the sauce is simmering, combine the ricotta cheese, spinach, lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the pasta to the water and cook until it's al dente (about 12 minutes). If it's underdone, that's OK. It's going into the oven to finish cooking.
- Once the pasta is done, drain and rinse under cold water immediately. Meanwhile, in an 8x10 inch lasagna pan, ladle some tomato sauce on the bottom in a thin layer just to provide a little bed on which the shells will sit. When the shells are cool enough to handle, stuff each shell with a giant huge heaping tablespoon of filling, until they're bursting at the seams (because that makes them yummy).
- Layer the shells evenly in the lasagna pan. Pour the rest of the sauce all over the shells and top generously with the grated mozzarella.
- Put in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and everything's warmed through.
Some may find the zest of one lemon to be too strong. I recommend starting with a little bit (maybe 1/2 tsp), then taste the ricotta mixture to see if you'd like to add more.